Rajasthan government, Gujjars to meet again Saturday (Lead)

June 13th, 2008 - 6:20 pm ICT by IANS  

Jaipur, June 13 (IANS) The Rajasthan government and Gujjar leaders met here Friday for “positive talks” and would hold more discussions Saturday in their effort to resolve the prolonged standoff over the community’s demand for tribe status. “The second round of talks that went for over two hours here was positive,” Om Prakash Mathur, state chief of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said here at a press conference.

“The talks were held in a cordial environment and we have decided to hold another round of talks here on Saturday at 11 a.m.” said Ramdas Agarwal, who headed the government delegation.

“I am optimistic that we will be able to reach an amicable solution,” he added.

Masood Chaudhary, vice-chancellor of a university in Jammu and Kashmir who is heading the Gujjar delegation, said the community raised its problems and the government listened to them “with an open mind”.

The second round of talks has raised hopes that the 22-day violent standoff over the demand for affirmative action may finally end.

A 28-member team of the Gujjar Sangarsh Aarakshan Samiti, that has been spearheading the community’s agitation for Scheduled Tribe status and therefore better education and employment opportunities, is holding discussions with a nine-member government delegation.

Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and Gujjar leader K.S. Bainsla are not part of the talks.

The government had paved the way for the talks on Thursday by releasing 24 Gujjar women arrested during the agitation, a precondition the community had set for the talks.

The women were arrested June 6 for squatting on the railway track near Bandikui in Dausa district as part of the agitation, which affected rail traffic on the important Jaipur-Delhi sector for about six days. They were charged with causing damage to rail property and indulging in violence.

On Monday, the two sides had held discussions in Bayana in Bharatpur district, about 160 km from here. The Gujjar leaders had then focussed on three conditions - release of the Gujjars held during the agitation, restoration of power supply to some Gujjar-dominated areas, and a stop to police raids in their areas.

The Gujjars, who are classified as other backward classes (OBCs) in Rajasthan and want ST status that would give them a bigger share of the quota pie, have been agitating since May 23. The violent protests have claimed 39 lives.

Last year, Gujjars had held protests all over Rajasthan from May 29 to June 4 to press the same demand. At least 26 people were killed in the violence then.

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